The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Say What?

I haven't posted much this week because I've been fighting off a cold. Also I have had to spend a lot of time at home waiting for Comcast to come make my cable internet work. (Apoplectic veins-popping-out-of-head rant to follow.)

But I'm not the only one who's having trouble coming up with good blog output. What on earth possessed Stephen Green to write this?

The election hasn't even been held yet, and already Vladimir Putin has named his new cabinet:
Putin retained the cabinet's strongest advocates of market reforms and left the military and internal-security forces in the hands of fellow KGB alumni. He removed entrenched ministers left from Boris Yeltsin's presidency in favor of his own loyalists and installed a close aide in the office of the new prime minister.

If you ask me, the cabinet sounds pretty damn good. Let me explain.

If Russia is ever going to become a fully modern nation -- and let's hope like hell it does -- it's going to need two things:
1) More real economic freedom.

2) A strong hand to keep everything from blowing up before freedom sinks in.

And don't let the KGB bogeyman scare you. Back in the bad old days, it was Leonid Brezhnev's KBG who tried to put Mikhail Gorbachev in power. They failed on the first attempt -- and we got the brief gerontocracy of Konstantin Chernyenko. After he died, the KGB finally got their man as General Secretary.

And why would the KGB want Gorby? He wasn't a spook -- he was an old party hack best known for some minor agricultural reforms. And that's exactly why they wanted him.

The KGB, better than any other body in the old USSR, knew that reform was needed if the country was going to survive. They saw the future -- that was their job, after all -- and it was bleak. Old Splotchy looked like the best bet to reform the government enough to survive, but not so much that the Party would fall from power.

The fact that they ended up wrong on both counts doesn't change the fact that the KGB knew the value of reform.

So when you see that Putin -- himself an old KGB hand -- has appointed more of his old cronies to power, you might breathe a small sigh of relief. We might not get along with them very well, we might have good reason to distrust them, but in many ways they're the best hope Russia has right now.

" A strong hand to keep everything from blowing up before freedom sinks in." Isn't it the strong hand that usually keeps freedom from sinking in? I mean, the world is not exactly overflowing with examples of countries liberalized by their secret police.

Stephen thinks that Russia needs a firm hand to implement reform. But there are different kinds of firmness. There's Bill Clinton firm, where you are in support of free trade, even though many in your party want protectionist exceptions. There's George Bush firm, where you implement the foreign policy you think best no matter how much France and Germany and a bunch of intellectuals scream and fling their feces.

And then there's the KGB's own kind of firmness, which is not at all the same thing. I suppose when harnessed in the service of economic liberty, the "strong hand" of the KGB will consist of throwing people in the Lubyanka when they complain about the price of bread, and giving those who think that telecommunications should not be privatized a one-way ticket to a Siberian slave labor camp.

As for his evidence, citing the KGB's support of Gorbachev, it's hard to imagine anything that could be more tenuous and still exist. So the KGB supported Gorbachev? What choice did they have, faced with the stern menace of Ronald Reagan and having suffered through a succession of aged non-entities? Did the KGB really expect that Gorbachev would hold parliamentary elections free to any political party? That he would let Eastern Europe detach itself from the Warsaw pact?

Stephen wasn't the only blogospheric superstar to hit a false note today. Here is a post by Instapundit Glenn Reynolds on congressional indecency hearings:

VARIOUS PEOPLE seem to be portraying controls on broadcast indecency as some sort of Republican plot. This story would seem to offer a corrective:

Senate Panel Votes to Raise Indecency Fine, Put Limits on Violence: The Senate Commerce Committee voted 23-0 today to approve legislation that would raise fines for indecent broadcasts to as much as $500,000 and for the first time in history could subject violent TV programming whether originating on broadcast, basic cable or satellite TV channels to the same punishment.

Sounds pretty bipartisan to me -- unanimous. (Then, of course, there's Kerry's support for the dropping of Howard Stern's show.) But here's the really interesting bit:

At today's vote, Sen. Hollings also introduced an amendment that would have required cable operators to offer their programming a la carte, allowing consumers to buy and pay for only the programming they want. But he withdrew the measure after it became clear that he didn't have the votes to support it.

It seems to me that this proposal would answer any complaints (except with regard to labelling, I guess) that any parent could have about indecent programming on cable -- you don't want the channel, don't buy it. The cable industry naturally opposes this -- bundling the Celebrity Underwater Kite-Flying Channel with HBO is how they fleece consumers make a lot of their money -- but I hope that it's an idea that will come back. (And I can only attribute Hollings' failure to get enough votes to undue influence on the part of the cable industry, as I can't imagine any Senator's constituents opposing this idea.)

Yes, it's rare for me to praise Fritz, but this looks like a good idea to me.


Bundling, and other "fleecings" such as loss leaders and differential pricing, are techniques used by pretty much every commercial enterprise in existence. Shouldn't cable companies be allowed to set their prices and services as they see fit?

Can you imagine what would happen if Congress wantonly interfered in the pricing decisions of private enterprises? How about if Congress implemented the "good idea" that airline tickets prices should be proportional to the distance travelled? (Result: immediate bankruptcy of the airline industry.) Maybe we should get the feds involved in prescription drug prices. How much does it cost a pharmaceutical company to make one a pill? Pennies! Drug prices are a scandal! They should be lowered by fiat! (Result: no way for drug companies to recoup research costs; patients become familiar with herbal remedies.)

Glenn updated his post with reader discussions. There were arguments over whether bundling is a good idea, but nowhere did Reynolds address the issue as to whether Congress should get involved with private companies' rate charges.

I note that both Stephen (in Colorado) and Glenn (in Tennessee) have had warm spring weather, just like us out here in California. Maybe one shouldn't expect good blogging on the first week of nice weather in spring.



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